Two years after its implementation, the Supreme Court ruled that the State validly exercised its powers in extending, through the senior high school (SHS), the precollege preparation of students from K-10 to K-12. More contentious was its dismissal of the TRO against excluding Filipino from the revised General Education (GE) college curriculum.
In affirming the constitutionality of the SHS, the Court upheld a program already validated by results in one critical respect. Rather than the predicted drop of enrollment in the formal education system, K-12 allowed more students to continue schooling beyond fourth-year high school. About a million more students now go to SHS, which is provided free in public schools and, with vouchers defraying the costs of seats in private institutions, became more affordable than the college freshman and sophomore years had been.
Critics contended that K-12 was designed to prepare Filipino students for the global job market. This was not an unreasonable goal, given unemployment numbers and the emergence of K-12 as the global education standard. But K-12 was actually only the long-delayed response to the perennial complaint that K-10 graduates were not adequately prepared for tertiary-level studies.
Colleges had coped by offering courses in the first three to four semesters that covered materials students should have learned in high school but did not—because our basic education system was two years short of the norm. Remedial courses eventually extended the time required to complete most college degrees, adding to the costs borne by students.
Ironically, as an American colony, the country already had a K-11 system. The leaders of the transitional Commonwealth government in the 1930s believed that preparations for independence should include adding a 12th year to the precollege program by reducing the seven-year primary education cycle to six years and adding two years to the four-year high school cycle. The newly independent Republic implemented the first, but not the second, part of the plan; it has taken some 80 years to complete the K-12 Commonwealth goal.
That said, we still cannot say that we are making best use of the additional learning time provided by K-12 and how much benefit students are gaining from it. This critical issue provides the context of the debate on the amount of time allocated to Filipino in the GE college curriculum.
By moving remedial courses to the SHS, college students would ideally have more time to complete the required courses in their chosen fields of study and allow them to earn their degrees in four instead of five years. Some GE courses should still remain in college, especially those that would help students cope with developments threatening to make their technical competencies replaceable by machines.
While the time for Filipino subjects may not have suffered a reduction in the six years of SHS and college, the faculty have other issues. Moving the courses from college to SHS implies a “downgrading” of the subject, reflected in possible decreases in their compensation. They also believed that Filipino deserves a share of the hours given to GE in college. Unfortunately, the allocation of GE hours is contested terrain between the advocates of more GE “liberal” versus professional courses, among the liberal arts disciplines competing for GE space, and for those championing the learning of other Philippine regional languages.
The controversy compels us to confront the serious issue of language diversity. The way forward is not entirely clear. Educators worry that our students are not learning English or Filipino well enough to communicate effectively in either language. Watch any talk-show program and check how many participants, counting hosts and guests, communicate exclusively in one language for more than five minutes, without resorting to Taglish.
Consider students failing high-stakes licensure exams because of language deficiencies. Or judicial hearings that expose a more critical consequence of our linguistic divides. Lawyers and judges conduct their discussions in English—a language hardly comprehensible to many of the suspects. Is there not a risk here of violating the rights of the accused when they have less ability to wield words as weapons or shields?
Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club.
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